043 – Cause of death: acting too much.

Fake Slackers

Translator: Jury

Editor: NomNom

First Published on Chaleuria

043 – Cause of death: acting too much.

Liu Cunhao and the others happily submitted the speech for announcement. On the way back, they yelled to He Zhao across the track. “Zhao-ge, do your best! We have a surprise for you!”

Not many people had signed up for the long distance event. There were only one or two from each class, and all of them had been forced to join. No one really wanted to run that many laps. For the shorter-distance events, they could sprint and show off, but for the 3000m event, all they could show off was how to pant heavily and suffer a fate worse than death.

He Zhao stood at the back of the line, the most eye-catching of the lot.

Hearing someone call his name, He Zhao turned around and made a ‘No problem’ handsign, then raised his voice. “Friend, tell me the secret?”

“Very secret.” Wan Da wagged a finger. “At that time, you’ll know.”

Luo Wenqiang followed up, “Don’t forget! You’re carrying Yu-ge’s spirit, too!”

He Zhao stood in place. He watchedenthusiastic, energetic classmates returning to their assigned seats, then looked away from them, his gaze landing on someone in the last row.

Xie Yu was looking down at his phone, refreshing his social media feed. He tapped ‘like’ a few times, which Dalei immediately screenshotted and sent to the ‘Don’t fight’ group, along with the caption, Missing person @xy, good to see you.

Only now did Xie Yu discover he hadn’t posted a status update in a long time.

He wasn’t in the habit of recording his life, but now there were all sorts of background noises making a ruckus all around him. Each class cheered on their representatives, some screaming, some consoling: “It’s all right. You already did very well. The important part is participating…”

Xie Yu opened his camera app, about to take a picture for participation’s sake, but when he raised his camera and adjusted the angle, he discovered in the frame a certain handsome devil, surname He, first name Zhao. “……”

The handsome devil was exaggerating his movements and his expression. He faced the camera, right hand tugging at his collar and a smile on his lips, very obviously posing for the camera, both confident and cool.

He was clearly an old hand at posing.

Xie Yu’s finger slipped and he nearly closed out of the app.

What a madman.

So many tricks up his sleeve.

Who the hell wants to take your picture?

Xie Yu resisted the impulse to throw his phone, but seeing He Zhao hold his pose for half a minute without moving—that endurance was impressive—he hit the camera button after all.

Terrified that He Zhao would get hooked on having his picture taken and pose several more times, Xie Yu stuffed his phone back in his pocket the moment he finished.

After a while, when He Zhao was getting in line on the track, Xie Yu took his phone out again and unlocked it. On the screen was the photograph from before.

With the light shining at their backs, the human subjects were slightly cast in shadow, but the youth in the center was still radiant and eye-catching.

“Men’s 3000m, prepare—”

A gunshot heralded the beginning of the 3000m event.

The dozen or so participants had their toes on the white line, and at the sound of the gun, they dashed forth.

“I’m not worried about everyone else, but in the class next door there’s a guy with damn good stamina. He represented the school before. That one, number five.” Luo Wenqiang stuck his head out and looked around, seeming a little worried. “…Why is Zhao-ge running so quickly at the start? Pace yourself.”

Wan Da: “Gym rep, let’s think of it a different way. He’s strong.”

“Strong my ass.” Xie Yu had finished looking through his friend group on the chat and caught the tail end of Wan Da’s words. He looked up and said, “He’s attention-seeking.”

Liu Cunhao applauded and said, “Can’t deny that.”

He Zhao ran in front, a full half-lap in front of the other runners. The eyes of the entire school were on him as he lapped the quad.

Several girls from the neighboring class were chattering. “Really, only 3000m? I want to see him run a few more laps. So cool.”

Xie Yu leaned back and narrowed his eyes. For some reason he was frustrated.

…What was there to look at, anyway?

“He’s coming, he’s coming!” Luo Wenqiang had brought a stool to sit right behind Xie Yu, and every time he saw He Zhao coming their way, he led the class in a group cheer to cheer him on. He was so excited he couldn’t even sit properly on the stool; he hovered in a half-squat over it and counted backwards. “Three, two, one. Do it neatly! Shout out the energy of our whole class!”

When He Zhao was nearing them, Luo Wenqiang led them in a cheer. “Class 3’s the best! Zhao-ge beats the rest!”

Repeated three whole times.

When He Zhao passed by Class 3 he slowed his pace and caught hold of the hem of his vest. He was probably feeling warm after having run four laps. As he ran he took off the vest, and the girls in the audience stand started aah-ing again.

When He Zhao was done stripping he yelled, “Old Xie!”

Before Xie Yu could react, He Zhao had already tossed the article of clothing in his direction, as if passing a ball. It landed right by Xie Yu’s feet and He Zhao said as he used his thin inner shirt to mop at his sweat, “Keep that for me.”

The jacket still held the lingering warmth of his body and the faint scent of detergent.

Xie Yu held on to He Zhao’s jacket. When there was one lap left in the 3000m event, Class 3’s announcement was finally picked out of the pile. Perhaps the broadcasters had finally run out of announcements and were forced to read this terrible submission.

“Announcement from Class 2.3. Victory to Zhao-ge, to Class 3.”

The announcer was a senior girl from the school committee, with a lively voice and crisp enunciation, who was deliberately imitating a news broadcaster. She read this far, then stopped. A few seconds later she continued, hesitantly. “Thank you to the other participants for participating. Very regretfully, uh, and very helplessly…”

By the time she had finished reading, the whole stadium was quiet.

At the words ‘small supporting role’ He Zhao stopped dead, about 100m from the finish line. Very obviously the manner a winner. Playing along with Class 3’s announcement, he waved to the audience in apology.

Clearly seeking attention again.

He Zhao was a full half lap ahead of second place anyway, so Liu Cunhao and the others played along with He Zhao’s act.

So the eyes of the whole school were on He Zhao as he stopped before the finish line, hands on his knees as he panted for breath and asked in a hoarse voice, “Who’s first place?”

The students of Class 3 yelled, “—He Zhao!”

“Louder?”

“He Zhao!”

“……”

He Zhao was clearly very immersed in this act and had dragged all of Class 2.3 along with him. The tackiness was thick in the air and he was so confident it was almost blinding.

Out of secondhand embarrassment, Xie Yu couldn’t keep watching. He looked down at the photo editor on his phone, adjusting the brightness of the photo he had taken just now. When he looked up again, the long distance runner from the neighboring class was taking advantage of the opportunity while Class 2.3 was posturing wildly to speed up and bypass the drama king without a sound, dashing toward the finish line. “……”

Class 2.3 didn’t win first place, but they made their name in the history books of Liyang Erzhong for absolutely unbelievable embarrassment.

Xie Yu glanced at his seat, then at the distance to the neighboring class, and thought very hard about moving his seat closer to them… he really couldn’t bear the embarrassment of that person.

Class 3’s homeroom teacher was a little more open-minded. Throughout the sequence of events, Tang Sen maintained a smile. “Interesting. Young people are so interesting.”

The few classmates who’d most ardently played along now sat in their seats, bent double at the waist, faces buried in their knees as they tried to hide.

“What does he mean ‘interesting,’” Luo Wenqiang said, hands over his head. “Damn it, this is so embarrassing.”

Wan Da’s muffled voice came, “So embarrassing I could die.”

Liu Cunhao said, “Stop talking about it. I’m already dead.”

He Zhao went to the bathroom to wash his face. Since he had perspired so much, he splashed cool water over his head, too, and the water flowed downwards over his neck. By the time he came back, his collar was soaked through. He sat down and said, “Listen to me. That was an accident. My real skills…”

Xie Yu grabbed a bottle of mineral water and chucked it at He Zhao. “Attention-seeking skills?”

He Zhao grabbed the bottle and gulped half of it down at once, then continued, “That really was an accident. I’m really very good. Did you see how I was ahead by half a lap? I left everyone else in the dust.”

“Big bro flirt,” Xie Yu said, “Can you shut up?”

The last event was the teachers’ race.

Everyone was here to watch the show. After all, during the day-to-day, they only saw the teachers at the podium delivering lectures.

“This counts towards class points, right?” He Zhao twisted the bottle closed and moved closer to Xie Yu. “If Old Tang gets first place, our class might…” …Might still be salvageable.

Xie Yu said, “Think about how Old Wu played soccer. Use that as reference.”

“……” He Zhao changed his mind. “Forget it. Pretend I said nothing.”

Class 2.3 didn’t hold any groundless hopes for Tang Sen.

By the time the other teachers finished the 400m race, their Old Tang had only run halfway; no one thought this was anything out of the ordinary.

Awkwardness was quick to come and quick to go. Especially for He Zhao, who hadn’t the slightest notion of shame: he led the whole class in selective amnesia and started madly cheering for Old Tang. “Do your best! Finishing is winning!”

Old Tang didn’t let everyone’s hopes down either. He solidly occupied last place.

Close to dismissal time, all the events had ended.

Liu Cunhao got up and yelled, “Everyone clean up your trash,” and Luo Wenqiang reminded everyone to return the number tags and safety pins to him.

All around was the sound of the various classes dragging their chairs back to the classrooms.

The word ‘dismissed’ often gives people a very strong surreal feeling. Xie Yu sat in his seat and watched the crowd disperse around him, the chairs also being cleared.

The sports meet seemed to have just begun, or perhaps like it had never happened at all.

While he was in a daze, He Zhao patted the back of his head.

“Let’s go, little friend.” He Zhao carried his chair under one arm, the other hand held out to Xie Yu. “Let’s go back to class.”

“Actually, we did pretty well. Third or fourth place,” Luo Wenqiang said as he collected the tags in the classroom. “Ah, when I got back, next door’s class rep laughed at me. Said, ‘First place, right?’”

The sports meet had ended and now, mentioning this event only made everyone want to laugh. Someone took the lead, then the whole class began to laugh.

He Zhao couldn’t restrain himself, either. He held one hand to his mouth, leaned backwards, and laughed for a long time.

Wan Da had already begun recounting the event as if it were ancient history. “At that time… my god, I don’t even dare remember it. I really—I was so overcome with emotion. I closed my eyes and yelled ‘Zhao-ge the Winner,’ but when I opened my eyes, that guy from next door had already dashed past the finish line…”

Xie Yu held in his laughter and looked down, copying the work, but his handwriting was a little shaky.

Dean Jiang heard the noise and came over. He Zhao glimpsed his face, expression grave and gaze sharp, through the window, and quickly caught hold of Xie Yu’s hand, stuffing both his hand and the workbook under the desk. “Mad Dog.”

Mad Dog walked in and made several rounds of the classroom. “I knew you couldn’t restrain yourselves. When it’s time to play, you can play, but when it’s time to be serious, you have to be serious. Really, no self-control at all. Discipline, it’s a discipline problem. How many times have I said it? Are you really that happy? If you’re that happy then tell me about it. Let me be happy too.”

Both Xie Yu’s hand and his workbook were kept under the desk by He Zhao’s hand. The whole class was sitting still, unmoving, and Mad Dog was in the area so He Zhao couldn’t move for the time being, either.

Xie Yu had his palm on the workbook and the cool steel surface of the desk, but the back of his hand was burning.

Both of them were wearing unnatural expressions. Or perhaps Mad Dog had finally noticed that the two students in the last row had their hands stacked together under the desk doing who knows what.

Mad Dog stopped his spiel about discipline. “The two of you, what are you doing?”

Who knew what He Zhao was thinking. To cover up for his deskmate copying homework, he brought their linked hands from under the table to the surface. Under the eyes of the curious audience, he said, “We’re… holding hands.”

“……”

 


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